Magazine Publishers of America’s Retail Conference wrapped its tenth annual program in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, March 7, attracting some 600 attendees, according to show organizers. The show, with content and networking opportunities centered around magazine and book distribution through the wholesale and retail channels, focused on macro themes of "making connections" and "innovation" important indeed as some sessions highlighted the need for innovation in distribution and ratebase efficiencies and stronger connections at the retail level, especially with the category managers.
Revealing that MPA may still smart a bit from Jon Stewart’s appearance on their Ad Week panel last fall, Terry McGraw, VP retail trade marketing for Comag, and the MC for day one, opened the general sessions with Academy Award themed remarks centered around a fictional category called Open Mouth and Insert Foot. The winner was Stewart for "biting the hand that feeds him" and saying things "obnoxious from the bottom of his heart," said McGraw.
Day one kicked off with a look at the state of retail, with speaker David Szymanski, director, Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University, noting that while tried and true consumer trends such as older age, diversity and increased debt still remain, "covert" trends are emerging that publishers and retailers should follow closely: consumers are more analytical, are making decisions in groups and demand self-customized offerings.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, the seventh, by the way, since the magazine launched in 1909, emphasized the importance of maintaining and protecting the brand. "We recognize that fashion is faddish, we’re not. Stars come and go, we stay right where we are," she said. Wintour described a choice she made between two covers of a recent Teen Vogue: Despite high marks for one cover from a reader panel, Wintour chose the other noting its greater faithfulness to the Vogue brand. "We might sell 20,000 more copies with the other cover," she said, "but we’d be selling off part of the Vogue brand with it."
The day’s most practical session was a panel made up of retail and distribution representatives discussing what’s important for publishers to know when selling into retail. Jamie Carey, vice president, newsstand at Barnes & Noble, Inc., laid the onus directly on publishers, noting that "publishers need to take greater ownership of their key retailer relationships and understand the retailer’s vision of the customer relationship. There’s no inherent bias against magazine products. Publishers are the ones who can say we can do this or that."
However, retail category managers need some education as well, especially those who could benefit from the magazine category. Steve Burbridge, SVP, sales and logistics, West, Time/Warner Retail Sales and Marketing, and a former category manager with CVS, said, "Magazines sell a lot of other products in the store. Other category managers in retail need to be educated on this and on the magazine category. Magazines can bring valuable information to other buyers in the retail organization. It would have helped me with cross-promotion in the stores."
Martha Stewart took the opportunity as the day’s closing speaker to toot her company’s horn with decidedly upbeat performance numbers after what she described as her "sabbatical" at prison camp. "I got to think a lot down there. I came back refreshed and ready to go," she said. Ad pages for flagship title Martha Stewart Living are up 45 percent so far over last year, renewals are up 30 percent and, according to Stewart, direct mail response is performing 85 percent better than the industry average. Every Day Food, a recipe title in digest-size, now has 900,000 paid circ. Stewart said she’s grown fond of the digest format and is working on rolling out Kids in the same format.
Terri Bever, director of strategic partnerships at airport concession stand operator HMSHost Corporation, noted in her state of terminal accounts presentation that airport retailing has evolved to a more magazine and book-focused operation. Periodicals and books have taken over as dominant display items over souvenirs for the company, which has annual sales of $2 billion, with the retail operation making up $300 million. Magazine and book titles are far more varied now as well and, according to Ryzner, are the only "planned" purchases by customers.
Once again, panels were highlights of the day – the popular, rapid-fire 20 Ideas in 20 Minutes covered cross-marketing, SIPs, finding new readers, and retail partnerships. The Data Utilization panel discussed the growing importance of store-level data and, despite its availability, why publishers are still not generally taking advantage of it. "Even though we have the data, behavior hasn’t changed," said moderator Richard Lawton, SVP Comag Marketing Group. "A lot of publishers are very fearful of missing ratebase even though there are some obvious efficiencies they could realize."
Lawton noted that sales efficiencies are still at 30 percent, the same as ten years ago, with $1.2 billion spent annually on printing and dealing with returns. And publishers are still managing to average rather than to margin.
Will Machalopoulos, senior director, retail newsstand marketing at Hachette Filipacchi, said initial efforts at improving efficiencies have been successful. "We went to retailers selling half a copy or less and removed them. We reduced draw by 15 percent with no impact on sales and had a $200,000 cost savings."
Sandwiched between the Data Utilization panel and Hachette Filipacchi CEO Jack Kliger’s closing remarks was, well, Jane Fonda, who talked about her inspiring search for self and the making of her best-selling autobiography, My Life So Far. Fonda, who was signing copies of her book, attracted an exodus just before Kliger, causing him to comment "I’ll wait for everybody to leave," before stumping for magazines and their importance in the media landscape because of their ability to "engage" readers.